Video game addiction — also known as problem video gaming — is an issue the media loves to hype (along with “Internet addiction“). Such gaming addiction is hard to define, but like pornography, some professionals say they “know it when they see it.”
One of the possible hypotheses put forth about these kinds of technology addictions back in 1999 was that what we were seeing wasn’t a behavioral addiction at all. Instead, it was suggested we were seeing the predictable adaptive behaviors of humans to unfamiliar stimuli in their lives. In this case, that stimuli was entertainment technology.
Emerging evidence suggests that this may be the case. And the really good news?
Video game addiction may resolve itself on its own — simply with time.
The new research was a three-stage, longitudinal study designed to measure participants over an 18-month period. A total of 393 participants took part in an online survey advertised on Australian gaming websites. They were then asked to complete followup surveys at 6-month and 18-month intervals, with 117 participants doing so.
So what did the researchers find?
At baseline, there were 37 self-identified problem gamers, and 80 self-identified normal gamers. A criterion validity check found that problem gamers scored significantly higher on a test of problem video gaming symptoms (i.e., PVGT) at baseline than normal gamers. […]
Both groups experienced a significant decline in problem gaming symptoms over an 18-month period, controlling for age, gaming activity, and psychopathological symptoms.
In other words, the self-identified problem gamers at the beginning of the study significantly reduced their problem gaming behavior 18 months later. So much so, they looked just like the “normal” gamers at the end of the study — their video gaming addiction had simply disappeared.
Previous research has found that problem gaming as a teen is the strongest predictor of future problem gaming as an adult. The current study, however, didn’t look at teens — only adults.
Nonetheless, the researchers have some theories as to why they saw problem video gaming disappear:
An explanation for this general decline in problem gaming symptoms in both groups is not readily apparent based on these data although the concept of maturing out over time is well established in the addiction literature. Inspection of problem gaming trajectories may suggest that a spontaneous recovery effect occurred among all gamers, as has been observed in studies that have monitored problem gamblers not receiving treatment.
It may be that problem gaming symptoms at baseline generally represented the most severe stage of respondents’ problem gaming habit, at which point problem symptoms remitted naturally over the course of the study.
The new study suggests that for most adults, video game addiction may very well resolve itself on its own over time.
If you can’t wait (or your relationship or work or studies can’t wait) for this possibility, it never hurts to see a mental health professional for a problem like this. A therapist can still help with problems of this nature, even if it’s not a formal diagnosis.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Trajectories of Problem Video Gaming Among Adult Regular Gamers: An 18-Month Longitudinal Study. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0062.